Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti has emailed supporters asking them to sign the petition to get his name on the ballot for the upcoming June primary election. The deadline for filing nominating petitions is April 5.
The move suggests Chiaravalloti may be moving forward with his reelection campaign for state Assembly despite losing the endorsement of Bayonne Mayor James Davis and the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). Chiaravalloti was poised to run unopposed in the upcoming primary until the sudden turn of events.
The sudden drama
In late February, Davis told Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) about his decision to no longer support Chiaravalloti for the Assembly seat for the 31st Legislative District.
Hudson County political tradition holds that the mayors of cities or towns in the legislative district have the power to choose state assembly and state senate nominations. This move bumps incumbent Chiaravalloti from the Democratic line on the ballot. The power to determine who gets “the line” is formally held by the Hudson County Democratic Party Chairperson.
In 2007, Chiaravalloti ran off “the line” but lost. He was elected to his present term in the assembly in 2016.
After a week of speculation, Davis announced William B. Sampson IV will be the new candidate for state Assembly for the 31st Legislative District which includes Bayonne.
Sampson, who graduated from Bayonne High School in 2007, is a crane operator for Global Container Terminal in Bayonne. If Sampson wins the seat, he will be the first Black legislator to represent Bayonne in the state Assembly.
It is still not clear why Davis decided to drop Chiaravalloti ahead of the June primary. Chiaravalloti was seen as a longtime political ally of Davis until recently.
Chiaravalloti is the Assembly Majority Whip and is responsible for marshaling the votes to pass essential legislation. Representatives of both Governor Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have reached out to Davis, encouraging him to keep Chiaravalloti, but to no avail.
After the announcement that Sampson will be the new candidate, Murphy declined to intervene any further.
Despite the announcement that Sampson would receive the endorsement instead of him, Chiaravalloti appears to be forging ahead with his reelection campaign.
“It is an honor to represent Bayonne and Jersey City in Trenton,” Chiaravalloti said in an email to supporters, asking for signatures for his petition to be on the ballot for the June 8 primary.
“Moving New Jersey and Hudson County forward as your 31st Legislative District Assemblyman is a privilege,” Chiaravalloti said. “I ran for public office not because I needed a job, but because a job needed to be done.”
A spokesperson for the assemblyman said he still has no comment on the matter at this time.
First nominated by Davis in 2015 after his election to mayor in 2014, Chiaravalloti is seeking his fourth term. Chiaravalloti ran for the seat after Davis similarly used his power not to endorse the incumbent Assemblyman at the time, Jason O’Donnell.
An ‘unfair’ line
As a result of the conflict between Davis and Chiaravalloti, the HCDO has been facing calls to end “the line.” The Jersey City Council passed a resolution last week endorsing the abolition of party lines on primary ballots in the interests of fair elections.
According to the resolution, sponsored by Ward E Councilman James Solomon, New Jersey primary election ballots are configured to “stack the deck” for certain candidates at the expense of others, “thereby undermining the integrity of elections and hindering our democracy.”
New Jersey is the only state in the nation that organizes its primary election ballots by bracketing groups of candidates in a column or row, rather than by listing the office sought followed immediately by the names of all candidates running for that office. This line “provides an unfair advantage,” according to the resolution, which cites that between 2009 and 2019 not a single incumbent state legislator lost his or her election when “awarded the line.”
According to an August 2020 paper by Associate Professor at Rutgers University Julia Sass Rubin titled “Does the County Line Matter?,” the difference between being on the county line and not being on the county line varied a candidate’s share of the vote by as much as 50 percentage points in some 2020 Primary Election races.
The resolution comes after a March 6 letter sent to Chair of the Hudson County Democratic Committee Amy DeGise by members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization asking for a special meeting to propose changes to their bylaws to end the “line” endorsement as well as lift the binary gender cap for individuals running for county committee.
The Jersey City Council passed the resolution with only two votes. Solomon and Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro voted in favor of the resolution while the other four council members abstained.
In Bayonne, local officials did not get involved when the matter was a topic of discussion at the March 17 city council meeting. Controversial former candidate for city council Peter Franco brought a resolution before the city council, practically the same as the one passed by Jersey City, calling for the abolition of “the line.”
“It’s time to abolish the influence of the county line and restore the power of our voters,” Franco said. “Government should be of the people, for the people and by the people. Nowhere in the federal or state constitutions does it give greater power to our mayor or political bosses than that of our voting power yet we know the influence of the county line determines election victors and it’s not right.”
He continued: “If our mayor has his way, Bayonne would lose tremendously by replacing Chiaravalloti, the Majority Whip in the state Assembly, for a political newbie with zero legislative experience; a gentleman who couldn’t even be bothered to vote in general elections in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2019, missing three of the last four races for state Assembly for the same exact seat that he’s seeking.”
Sampson has countered that assertion by claiming that his history of missing elections can bring new voters to the table.
Franco said that Davis’s decision puts Bayonne in a bad position and that voters should determine the candidate not the mayor. He said that he never voted for Chiaravalloti, having worked on two campaigns against him, but does not support replacing him in this manner.
Afterwards, no member of the council spoke on the spoke nor motioned to vote on the resolution. There was no further conversation on the matter.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.